Notes: Stewart tearing up spring

Notes: Stewart tearing up spring

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Ian Stewart neatly placed his shoes and clothes in his new locker in the Colorado Rockies' Spring Training clubhouse at Hi Corbett Field on Tuesday afternoon. The new space was a reward for Stewart, who has hammered his way out of a cramped auxiliary room of lockers that are about half the size of those in the main dressing quarters.

"I finally graduated up here," said Stewart, who was able to move to a nicer neighborhood because the Rockies sent 15 players to Minor League camp in Monday's first round of decisions.

Earlier, Stewart knocked his fifth homer of the spring and fourth in the last three days -- a two-run shot in Colorado's 9-5 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. He earlier knocked a pinch-hit, opposite-way double off the upper part of the left-field wall. If he could hit his way out of the shadows by the middle of March, could he also swat away the Rockies' plan to send him to Double-A Tulsa to start the season?

With Stewart hitting .591 with 12 RBIs and 31 total bases in 22 at-bats, the questions are happy, even if they are uncomfortable. The Rockies already have a young third baseman they're excited about -- Garrett Atkins, who led them with 89 RBIs and finished fourth in National League Rookie of the Year voting last season. Yet the Rockies are no doubt excited about their top pick in 2003 showing up at his first Major League camp and turning out to be a phenom.

Stewart greets the questions with a grin he can't control even though he tries.

"I'm just out here enjoying it in a big-league clubhouse, big-league games," Stewart said. "I don't know. It's not up to me. I'm just trying to play well and make it as tough for them as possible."

Manager Clint Hurdle leaned back and smiled at the inevitable question about whether the timetable needs changing.

"Obviously, he's having a special spring, and that's about all we need to say regarding it," Hurdle said. "He's gained the respect of his teammates. He's gained the respect of the players he's playing against. Bottom line, it's still in Spring Training.

"There's the fact that there's going to be an Opening Day for him and he's going to be hitting zero and he's got no homers. But we do like what we're seeing."

Stewart turns 21 on April 5, the day before Tulsa opens at home against Wichita. Or, for those who want to dream big, the day that the Rockies finish their three-game, season-opening homestand against Arizona.

The "special spring" runs deeper than home runs. When he hit two homers on Monday night against Arizona, an alert fielding play and throw to the plate caught eyes. On Tuesday, muscling the double the opposite way was an accomplishment not to be forgotten.

"I've been trying to work at hitting the ball the other way," Stewart said. "I've been kind of labeled as just a pull hitter. Hitting the ball the other way like that, hard, has been good for me so far."

Gaining the label of Major Leaguer to start 2006 would be difficult. Atkins is hitting .389 this spring and has given the Rockies no reason to want to push him aside. No one wants what happened last season, when Atkins' injury in the final exhibition game before the season forced prospect Jeff Baker onto the field. Baker homered on Opening Day, but on April 26 he was sent to Triple-A Colorado Springs with a .211 batting average and was never recalled.

"He's going to be 21 next month, so he just needs to play," Hurdle said. "We'll see how it works out. The beauty about any young player that can play is when they force your hand."

The injured list: Infielder Josh Wilson, acquired from Florida during the offseason, will miss 4-6 weeks with a fractured left big toe, which he suffered when he fouled a pitch off his foot on Monday night. ... Prospect Ryan Shealy, trying to a spot in a right-field platoon, will not play until his strained right elbow is pain-free. ... Center field prospect Jeff Salazar also is out indefinitely with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow.

Right-handed pitcher Josh Fogg, who missed a start on Monday with a right groin strain, will throw a bullpen on Wednesday or Thursday. ... Catcher Yorvit Torrealba, fighting a sore right shoulder, is day-to-day in terms of fully resuming catching. ... Outfielder Jorge Piedra, out with plantar fasciitis in his left heel, has resumed "light baseball activity right now with no timetable" for his return, Hurdle said.

Back home, but off target: After struggling for Canada in a World Baseball Classic game (six runs in 1 1/3 innings against Mexico), left-hander Jeff Francis was inconsistent in three innings against the Brewers. After a clean first inning, he gave up a two-run, Mike Rivera homer in the second. Francis also gave up a leadoff double to Brady Clark in the third, but was bailed out by a pair of defensive plays by first baseman Todd Helton -- one when Helton started an inning-ending double play.

Francis, scheduled to pitch again on Saturday, said his pitch location went awry in the second inning.

"I guess I did have a good first inning, which is something I didn't do a lot last year, so that's a good sign," said Francis, who had a habit of slow starts but also led the Rockies in wins while going 14-12 as a rookie.

Watching the Kims: Fourth starter Byung-Hyun Kim has thrown twice, with short stints, and fifth starter competitor Sunny Kim has had one relief stint for Korea in the World Baseball Classic. Pitching coach Bob Apodaca said he respects the Korean team's pitching decisions, but also understands that they might not have much time to prepare for the regular season.

"We're just going to have to deal with the condition of both of those pitchers when they get here," Apodaca said. "We do have some plans, whether it involves pitching in Minor League games to get their pitch counts up and get their innings up. That's all we can do is play some catch-up with both of those individuals, especially Sunny, who is vying for that fifth spot."

Coming up: Right-hander Aaron Cook will start for Colorado against the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday at Hi Corbett Field.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.